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Women: Empowering or endangering one another?


By Dr Chani Imbulgoda

Do we have to wait until March to talk about the issues faced by women? I don’t think so. As a woman, I feel it is right to speak about women and their tormentors. Men? No, not really. ‘Women against women’ is not a fashionable term, but we see and feel it too often, regrettably. We hear and see how women conspire against other women. Nevertheless, at open forums, more fashionably under the guise of feminism, women pretend their common enemy is men. Patriarchy and narcissism would turn men against women in the corporate context, political context and, in the household. However, the damage women do to other women by conspiring, criticising and silently igniting fire cannot and should not be swept under the carpet.

“I am having a terrible time, my boss is so tough, I am looking forward to working under a male boss”, one of my educated friends complained. “I have had my worst experience with female bosses; they are not empathetic,” another friend of mine who is a Directress of an international NGO revealed. Women are not empathetic towards other women. These female bosses want us to work 24×7, and they do not care how we struggle with our kids. This is a common complaint.

Women criticise male dominance in public forums, especially when they talk about women’s rights. However, as I often notice, in corridors and behind closed doors, and sometimes at social gatherings, women plot against women. Why? The immediate answer that comes to my mind is that invariably women are scared of masculinity, and find it easier to conquer women, who are a soft target. Some believe that any woman can be broken down by shaming or criticizing.

Recently on Facebook, I saw a woman’s birthday wish to a female friend with a comment “oya than nakii” (you are old now). The small but deep emotional scar she inflicts on her friend is not negligible. Women are the first to provoke the other, reminding the age of puberty, the age to get married, and the time to have children. I have seen how some girls suffer when they miss the ‘generally accepted’ age of puberty. They suffer when they cannot find a life partner and even after getting married when they do not get conceived. I have met young women who suffer in hospitals, spending all their money and sacrificing their good health to have kids, not because they want to, but as their mothers, mothers-in-law, and colleagues raise questions about their fertility. Women label others with remarks such as “She behaves like this because she’s a single parent, she’s doing this because she doesn’t have kids, she does that because she’s unmarried.” With such remarks, they build emotional walls around the one subject to discussion. Gender shouldn’t be used to build walls around human beings, their capabilities, aspirations, and happiness.

Some women become submissive so as to be called ‘respectable feminine’. Recent research conducted on ‘respectable femininity’ reveals that “women feel guilty if they don’t maintain their impression respectably by providing certainty to traditions”. In doing so, they often suffer, and some until they die of chronic diseases. Some women carry their spouses’ surnames and insult others who do not. They brand the women who do not take on the surname as disrespectful wives. A long time ago, when that question was thrown at me, my immediate answer was I preferred ‘shine under my father’s surname’. Sometimes, my friends ask why I post my pictures on Facebook. I ask them, ‘Why do you ask?’. They come up with ideas such as ‘you are seeking attention’; ‘that picture doesn’t fit a professional’, etc. I ask them whether they pose that question to their male colleagues.

Poets compare women to twilight, flowers soft and tender, loving and caring. Some poets appreciate women who work at home, cooking, sewing, and cleaning are their chores, and they are making themselves tired, sacrificing their leisure for others. Religions describe the qualities of women. The fragile nature of women is often highlighted in literature and women have thus been conditioned to think that they ought to become what others want them to be. When courageous women fought for independence, they were branded as arrogant and stubborn, and in the medieval period such women were even called ‘witches’.

Today, in the corporate world they are called ‘Alpha women’, but actually treated as witches, and behind their backs, the first letter in ‘witches’ is replaced with ‘B’. An alpha woman is defined as a powerful and successful woman with leadership qualities. They are described as intimidating. Also, they are subject to discrimination. Women who are subservient to their bosses and active on the grape wine are often antipathetic towards alpha women, the new kind of corporate witches who fight alone for the rights of others, work to achieve targets and run the race faster than the others. Alpha Woman is not only found in the corporate world; they are there even in smaller circles like community centres, and household factories. And the witch hunt goes on to crush their morale.

Women pretend to empower and uplift other women, but reality is different. Women rally against men once a year. Every year we celebrate International Women’s Day and vow to stop discriminating against women and ensure equity and equality. Leaving these popular slogans aside, I look forward to days when women honour ‘other’ women and celebrate differences among them.

(The writer is a holder of a senior position in a state University with international experience and exposure. She holds a PhD in Reform Execution from the Postgraduate Institute of Management, University of Sri Jayewardenepura. She can be reached at

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